Sometimes no matter how devoted a lead singer is to his band, he’s gotta step out, jam heavier on some synths, remember the 80s and go wild in his own studio. 17 years and two albums after co-founding the Anchorage, AK indie band Smile Ease, frontman, songwriter and keyboardist Paul Jacks took a break and did just that, resulting in his solo debut album Defractor.
From start to finish, it’s a delightfully, synth and electronic beat swirling mindbender of a trip back to the spirited, seemingly simpler times when Gary Numan, OMD, Joy Division, Tears for Fears and Nile Rodgers era Bowie held court on the pop charts. It opens with the buoyant “Laid To Rest,” whose relentless dance groove and spirited sonic circus somewhat obscures his reverberating vocals as they utter some pretty thought provoking words: “Won’t you comfort me, help me through this/out of this moment comes projection to face your fears/will you hold my cold hand as it fades and disappears.
The song is celebratory yet the lyrics about a dying man seeking comfort in his last moments. Eerie? Ghoulish? Dark? Or simply way cool? That’s up to the listener, who will also no doubt enjoy propulsive dreamscape driven but lyrically visceral gems like “My Heart is a Book,” “Lightning Lobotomy” and “Spy In Me.” Jacks keeps the beats hoppin’ pretty much throughout, but he slows into something a little more seductive and slightly downtempo on the closing number “Lightyear Radio. Nice to have a sliver of variety.
As engaging as it is, Defractor has an experimental sense to it, like Jacks – freed from the confines of a democratic ensemble – just had a fun working with all sorts of crazy, otherworldly sounds in service of his colorful tunes. Because of this focus, yet perhaps by design on the mixing board, his vocals are a bit overly ethereal, covered a little too deeply in the mist of the musical moment. Next time, he shouldn’t be so shy about letting himself shine just a bit above the synthesis of amazing sounds.